Richmond Hill community leaders plant memorial tree in honor of COVID-19 victims

Community leaders, religious leaders and local elected officials plant a memorial tree in honor of COVID-19 victims at Smokey Oval Park in Richmond Hill on Nov. 6. (Photo courtesy of Richard David)

Community leaders, religious leaders and local elected officials on Nov. 6 planted a memorial tree at the entrance of Smokey Oval Park, now known as (Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park) in Richmond Hill to honor victims of COVID-19.

The Federation of Hindu Mandirs, in partnership with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, were joined by City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Assemblyman David Weprin, Community Board 9 Chair Sherry Algredo and District 31 Leader Richard David for the tree-planting ceremony. 

The project was funded by the Federation of Hindu Mandirs through the Tree Time program at the Parks Department. Smokey Park was selected for this memorial because of the central and important role it plays within the community from hosting the Phagwah Parade, Indian Arrival Day, the Queens Cancer Walk and dozens of community events and festivals.

The service began with an interfaith prayer from Pandit Ram Hardowar, president of the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, and Pastor Matthew Singh from New Haven Ministries. Remarks were made by Shaykh Safraz Bacchus of Majid Al Abdin and Ragbir Singh from the Sikh community. 

“This tree will become a memorial site for relatives and friends to gather and reflect on the loved ones they lost during the darkest days of the pandemic. It will provide hope, strength, and serve as a natural reminder of the continuous cycle of life which does not end with the loss of our physical bodies,” Hardowar said. 

According to David, Richmond Hill had some of the highest infection rates in New York during the peak of COVID-19.

“This is a tree for the future after the worst disaster of our lives. We are only here today because we helped each other and through the courage of essential workers, but we lost so many loved ones,” David said. “This tree will grow as a living memorial to honor this period in history.”